Iceland is most known for its epic landscape.
It’s a small island in the middle of the Atlantic just under the Arctic Circle. It’s the land of fire and ice. You can drive for miles and miles and not see a living soul. Only some fluffy white sheep in need of a haircut and Icelandic horses lazily grazing in pastures between mossy green volcanic fields.
You’ll find the people in Reykjavik, Iceland’s most populous city. In fact, over 120,000 people live in Reykjavik and its surrounding suburbs. That’s over a third of Iceland’s total population of 320,000 people.
Reykjavik is a charming and colorful seaside city that is constantly getting named as one of the best and must see cities in the world. I can see why. It has something for everyone – delicious restaurants serving traditional Icelandic food, shops filled with homemade lambswool sweaters, and pubs opened to the wee morning hours. And, they have a penis museum.
As a budget traveler, I’m always looking for free things to do. Iceland was no different. Iceland is one of the most expensive countries in the world, and we had some pretty expensive activities booked, like horseback riding and snorkeling the Silfra.
Then we found it – a free walking tour in Iceland. One of my favorite things to do in every city I visit.
CityWalk Reykjavik is a free walking tour in Iceland founded in May 2014 by Marteinn. Since its founding in 2014, the tours have grown to recieve over 1500 monthly visitors and it is ranked as a top activity in Iceland. As someone who has done over 50 walking tours in various cities across the globe, CityWalk Reykjavik is one of my favorites. Not only is Marteinn a total cutie, but he is extremely passionate about Icelandic history and sharing it with visitors.
The tour meets daily, rain or shine, at 10am and 1pm in front of the Parliament Building. It was cold and windy morning, but over 25 people from around the world showed up for our tour. Marteinn even remembered where we were all from, which is impressive in my book. I’d be lucky to remember my own name some mornings.
Iceland has an interesting history. One you don’t really learn about in American history classes. Yes, Iceland has vikings, but their history is way more than just that. Way back in the day, Iceland was part of Denmark. In case you’re wondering, Greenland is still part of Denmark. Iceland became its own independent republic on June 17, 1944. At the time is was still occupied by the Germans during WWII.
Marteinn is a wealth of knowledge when it comes to Icelandic history. He’s a history grad afterall. In Iceland, children go to high school up until they are 20 years old then go to university for four years. After that many go on to earn their masters degree in one year. Iceland is exteremely well educated.
From the Parliament Building, which isn’t that impressive, we walked towards the city’s main square where two pillars stand. One releases steam while the other releases smoke. The pillars represents Iceland’s seal. Once you see the pillars, you’ll start seeing them everywhere!
Icelandic people, especially the older generations, love their folklore. Elves are very much a part of Icelandic culture. Along with sheep and Icelandic horses. Marteinn passed around a sheep’s jawbone that was used as a child’s toy years ago. I’m not sure if he was joking or not.
Iceland doesn’t have a military like the United States, but they do have a Coast Guard. Iceland is an island after all with a lot of fishermen. You kind of need people to save you if your boat is about to sink. Iceland has three active Coast Guard boats, but most of the time you’ll see at least two of them at the docks… doing nothing.
Now for the fun facts that I learned about Iceland:
- Iceland was one of the first countries in the world to give women the right to vote in 1915.
- Iceland has the highest rate of chalmydia in Europe.
- Iceland only started serving beer in 1989. It’s still a very liquor-based drinking culture.
- Icelandic people eat raindeer for Christmas dinner.
Our two-hour tour finally ended in front of City Hall. Marteinn told us a little bit about city politics. And also about the financial meltdown, but if you’re interested in the collapse of the Icelandic banking system in 2008, check out their Walk the Crash tour.
The former mayor of Reykjavik was a comedian prior to taking office. During his campaign he made a lot of promises, including “I will break every promise.” That got him elected and, of course, he broke every promise he made. At least he was honest!
Overall, the CityWalk Reykjavik tour was great. Marteinn is a great tour guide. He’s a very knowledgeable and passionate ambassador and he gives out licorice during the tour. You can’t say no to free candy, right? Oh wait, I don’t think you’re supposed to take candy from strangers, but after two hours together I can say we’re not strangers.
If you’re in Iceland and looking to learn a bit more about Iceland history and culture, I would recommend signing up for a CityWalk tour. You’ll learn a lot, and Marteinn will send you can email afterward filled with additional information and recommendations. Don’t forget to tip!